Sunday, August 27, 2017

Watching Blockbuster Skies, Brainstorming Eclipse Art

Nature put on two high-altitude shows last week, one astronomically stupendous, and the other meteorologically harrowing. We are all worried about people in the path of devastating tropical storm Harvey - they don't need quilts, but we can donate funds to a variety of helpful agencies

For those of you in need of a distraction from the storm news, let's discuss the eclipse. How was yours?  Here in Los Angeles, I felt a bit let down. At 62% coverage, the world didn't look any darker. Birds didn't flock, dogs didn't bark, everything seemed normal. 

But as an opportunity to commune with humanity, it was a blast! I rendezvoused with my DH at Cal Tech in Pasadena, where he works. This campus is normally so quiet that you rarely see more than one person at a time walking its shady paths. But on eclipse morning, it was thronged with joyful crowds. I had to park a half mile away, and hike in. The event sponsors ran out of viewing glasses long before I arrived. Fortunately, my DH had obtained some in advance.

Gazing through the glasses, I kept thinking: A little smiley face in heaven!

More thrilling were contraptions people made or enlisted into the effort to watch safely. There were welding helmets, and cereal boxes with aluminum foil patches. And I especially loved these two physics students' clever colander contraption:


Now I am trying to figure out what kind of fabric art piece this inspires. NASA people to share their eclipse-inspired art, as I explained in my blog post last week. The deadline is September 15, and the rules are at (I am assuming that an art quilt fits into their "mixed media" category.)

My friend Anne Finkleman witnessed the eclipse from Atlanta, where they had 98% totality. Here are some pictures she took outside of her office building of the eclipse's shadows coming through tree leaves, which act like a giant colander. I think I'm going to base my NASA quilt on her very cool images (I have her permission!) That brick pattern is so similar to log cabin piecing.
 Here's another image she took of a different sidewalk. This sidewalk has squares on point.
That is a lot of smiles. Which brings us to the question: how to render this kind of image effectively. Applique? Thread painting? Last week, I mentioned bleach discharge as a way to get a spacey effect. 

Since then, I dug out and photographed this experimental piece made a decade ago, as a failed attempt at an astronomy-themed prayer shawl for my son's bar mitzvah. I ended up going in a different direction, but I still have it, made with Decoularant on black fabric (safer than bleach, no toxic fumes, no financial affiliation). It's over 2 yards long: 
It's based on this famous NASA photo of a spiral galaxy: 
I just painted on the Decoularant, did a little overspraying with more from a spray bottle, ironed and washed, and the results were pretty cool. Here's the front, center. 
And the back, center: 
 The back is even better, right? Below, the back, from a distance....
 Some cool blobs from the front:

And the back:
So you can see where discharge has potential for eclipse art! As does paint. Here's a Rosh Hashana postcard I made years ago with rubber stamps and white acrylic paint. 
That planet on the lower left? It's stamped with a foam circle in white paint.   Here are a couple more experimental foam circles made with paint for a different postcard (Just don't ask me why I put mah jongg tiles in space. I was young.)
More eclipse art: Oregon State University held a quilt show in honor of the event. The Quilt Show showed off some great images of art made BEFORE the big event, here.

If you need more inspiration for eclipse art, photos collected from private citizens as well as NASA scientists are on Flickr, here. If the photo is taken by a private citizen, you will need their permission to use it. If you want to view (and possibly use) NASA photos only, there's a wealth of images starting on this page. For example, here's a wonderful time lapse image taken for NASA by Aubrey Gemignani:
And below is another NASA image taken over Madras, Oregon. 
NASA's generous image terms of use are explained here
Finally, don't throw away your eclipse glasses. Donate them to Astronomers without Borders so needy young people can use them in the future!  Find the information here.
For those of you in Harvey territory: Stay safe.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Make an Eclipse Art Quilt! And Share it with NASA!

The good news: There's a once-in-99 years worldwide eclipse tomorrow! 

OK, that's not news, you knew that. What you might not know is that NASA is inviting people to make art quilts based on the event! The agency says, "You have until September 15, 2017 to complete your work, take a picture and upload it using #EclipseArtQuilt."  To learn more about the Eclipse Art Quilt project, go to

So now you may be thinking about whether you should photograph the eclipse. As a rule, it's a good idea for quilters to take their own photos to inspire their fiber art. But an eclipse may be the exception. You surely know that to protect your eyesight, you should not look at the eclipse without certified safety glasses. Taking direct photographs of the eclipse is also unsafe for your camera if it isn't outfitted with a solar filter. NASA's advice on safe eclipse photography is here. UPDATE: Even a cellphone selfie isn't safe for your eyes.

Fortunately, there's no compelling need to take your own photos. There are fantastic, abundant, royalty-free, and/or public domain eclipse pix - from the the past and tomorrow .

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has a long page of royalty-free photographic images of solar eclipses, at  You can't use them for commercial purposes, and must credit the photographer. Here's a simple-but-elegant time lapse photo from the site, taken by Rick Fienberg/TravelQuest International/Wilderness Travel, who had front-row seats to the event on a cruise ship off the coast of Indonesia. 
Is that not awesome? I could imagine creating an image like on fabric, using a discharge method that pulls the dye out of dark fabrics. Discharging can be done with anything from bleach pens to low-fume  agents like DeCoulerant, which is carried by many quilt shops. Read more about discharging on Dharma Trading's informational webpage, here. 

Below is another amazing Rick Fienberg image, of what astronomers call the eclipses' "diamond ring". According to AAS, the ring "appears just before the beginning of totality, when a single bright point of sunlight — the diamond — shines through a deep valley on the Moon's limb (edge) and the inner corona — the ring — becomes visible." 
Again, I could see translating his image with bleach discharge on dark fabric. Or maybe with a process known as sunpainting, in keeping with the cosmic theme. Or painting on white fabric with black and grey paints, using Mickey Lawler's addictive SkyDyes approach. Or  improvisational cutting of grey and black batiks. 

Want to review more images? Tomorrow, there will be an onslaught. According to NASA, "Viewers around the world will be provided a wealth of images captured before, during, and after the eclipse by 11 spacecraft, at least three NASA aircraft, more than 50 high-altitude balloons, and the astronauts aboard the International Space Station – each offering a unique vantage point for the celestial event.....Never before will a celestial event be viewed by so many and explored from so many vantage points – from space, from the air, and from the ground..." 
(Above is a NASA image.) And what if you can't get outside during the eclipse? You'll be working, or sleeping, or not feeling well, or a caregiver? NASA is going to televise the whole thing! Learn more here

Just for fun, I decided to google "Eclipse Quilts," and here's what I came up with. First, this Main Street Market pattern (it doesn't look anything like NASA photography, but is spectacular), 
And this really cool pattern designed by Sandy Brawner of Quilt Country, right now on Etsy, here. (No financial affiliation with this company or any company in this blog post!) 
The classic quilt book Strips'n'Curves by Louisa Smith has a slew of eclipse-ish quilt projects. 
When  you think about it, an eclipse is a process by which a full circle becomes a partial circle, and then recovers. If that's not quilt fodder, I don't know what is. 

Finally, super-quilter Carol Bryer Fallert Gentry made a famous series of Corona quilts,  Corona 1, Corona 2, and Corona 3 in the 1980s. On second thought, these quilts are so magnificent that I would now like to heave my sewing machine out my window. (Fortunately, I live on the ground floor.) So maybe you should design and finish your eclipse quilt, share it with NASA, and THEN look at what Carol made!

For more ideas on using public-domain astronomy photographs in fiber arts page, check out this earlier blog post. 

UPDATE: Thanks to a tip a commenter, below, I learned that the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY is showing Fallert Gentry's famous Corona 2 quilt, in honor of the eclipse. You can see it on the museum's website, here (as well as at the link above, on the artist's website). The museum will close for 15 minutes at midday so staff and visitors can witness the event! 

UPDATE: Thanks to a friend, I learned of a spectacular raffle quilt made by members of the Madras United Methodist Church in Madras, Oregon. Proceeds from the raffle go to a local food pantry. Learn more about it here (scroll down). This image is from their website. The raffle ends August 22. 


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

English Paper Piecing Experiment: 3 Ways to Finish Project Edges

A couple of weeks ago, I showed off three 12" tops I'd made, as part of my new obsession with English Paper Piecing (EPP). The centers are Alex Anderson's festive pomegranate fabric.
That blog post included an EPP tutorial. I was deciding whether to combine them into one tablerunner, or finish them separately. Since then, I chose the latter. Here's #1, finished: 
The second one is also hand-quilted with motifs inspired by the central fabric: 
And below is the third, which my DD pointed out has a Thanksgiving feel. It's machine-quilted. Note: the hexagons aren't as symmetrical as in the first two. 
Here's why: the backs are different.
I used three different finishing techniques, as a semi-scientific way to research EPP finishing, and, if possible, reduce handwork.

English Paper Piecing is easier than regular piecing in many ways. Seam allowances needn't be perfect, and Y-seams are a breeze. Hexagons become child's play.

But EPP can involve a lot of handwork, which is tough on grownup hands, wrists, and shoulders. Plus, finishing the edges is a challenge.  Regular patchwork has only three layers at the edges: top, batting, and bottom. Stitch on a binding that takes up 1/4" of the edges, and you're done.

But with EPP, the top edges are already turned inside. And somehow, the backing fabric also has to be turned under. That makes 4 layers of fabric at the edges, plus batting. A regular binding is not practical. But there's no un-fussy-way to hide the batting inside and turn the back edges inward.

So I did some experimenting.

MAT 1: Classic Same-Shape Lining 
Usually, EPPers suggest you make a backing that has the same number of paper-pieced shapes on the edges as the top has around its edges. For my first mat, I gave it a shot, just for the purposes of comparison. First, I traced the finished top (with templates still inside) on batting.
Used the batting to cut out a larger piece of backing fabric.
 Created a set of hexagons that match the top's edges. (Hand-stitched, alas!)
Put the batting down first; center the backing on top of it, and finally the back hexagon wreath on top of that. Pinned in position.
Remember, the batting is on bottom - the top hasn't joined it yet.  I stitched all the way around the inner edges of the hexagons with a machine straight stitch (You should use a matching thread).
 From the batting side, you can see the stitching.
 Lay the top on the batting.
Whoops, remove all the templates first. THEN pin in position, and carefully handstitch all the way around the outside tucking in and/or clipping off any batting the protrudes.
I used a straight hand-quilting stitch to join the edges, as you can see on the lower right corner. 
The quilting motifs were hand sewn with two strands of embroidery floss. Here's a closeup of the back: 
Not bad! I'm going to quilt the central area a bit more, to hopefully take out more of the fullness there. I'm giving this method a solid B. But it didn't achieve my goal of reducing hand-stitching.

MAT 2 - METHOD 2: One-Piece Backing
From the top, the edge stitching on this mat looks the same as #1. 
But it was easier and faster, because I made a one piece backing.  First, I had to make a one-piece template for the backing. 
I made mine out of old file folder, onto which I traced the top. My folder wasn't quite big enough, so I taped two pieces together - but I should have used a glue stick, so the tape wouldn't melt when ironing.

Pinned the template on the batting.
Traced and cut out the batting. Cut the batting back further, taking about a quarter of an inch off each edge.
Pinned the cardstock template on the backing fabric, and cut out the fabric 1/2"-1" larger all the way around.
Clipped into the concave corners, to within a few threads of the template.  Tip: If you drip a bit of fray-checking substance there, it will strengthen the corner.
 Pressed fabric edges inwards over the template.
Removed the cardstock and replaced it with the batting.
Placed the backing, good side down, with the batting inside of it. Placed the top on that, wrong sides together.
Straight stitched all the way around (a whipstitch would work, too.)
Closeup of my straight stitch along the right and bottom edge of this hexagon. 
I'm happy with the way it turned out. It was easy and required much less handsewing than method 1 (or as you'll see, method 3.)
Again, I may do some more quilting in the middle to reduce the puffiness. I'd give this method an "A", except that some of the concave corners look better than others. This has to do with how far I dared to clip (the more you clip, the smoother - but the more danger of holes on the back.) So I'll give this method an A-. 

MAT 3 - METHOD 3: Machine Stitched Multiple-Piece Backing. 
This is a variation of Method 1, and also recommended by many EPPers - create a backing edging, with the same paper-pieced shapes as the front, and then stitch it to the front, wrong sides out. Finally, turn the backing to the back. I took unfortunate liberties with this approach.

Like Mat 1, this approach required 12 handsewn backing hexagons, one to match each of the border hexagons on front. First, let us admire how neat and symmetrical the front hexagons were to begin with.
Here's how they look before the templates were removed. 
 Here's the backing set:
 It's all so perfect, right? But not for long. I used the file template I'd made for mat #2 to trace and cut out batting, then cut back all the edges  1/4" or more within the tracing lines.
I discovered you can do the cutting and trimming more easily with a rotary cutter.
  I also used the cardstock template to trace and cut out the backing fabric.
Again, I trimmed the fabric back by 1/2" or so, all the way around. This doesn't have to be neat or precise.
 Remove the cardstock templates, and  pin the backing hexagon set to the front edges, good sides together.
This is where I went off the beaten path. The experts say to whipstitch the backing hexagons to the edges of the top. But my shoulder was aching - so I thought, what the heck, what if I machine stitch all the way around? I sewed about an eighth of an inch in from the edges. 
 ...And began turning.....
 It did not go well.
The back was a hot mess too, with some scary creases in the concave corners, which I obviously had not clipped...
 Nevertheless, I persisted, smushing the batting and backing inside.
 Massaged it mightily to see if I could work out those creases....
Eventually, it became acceptable, though I did think seriously about ripping out all the machine stitches and doing the edges all over again with the hand whipstitch. Instead, I hand-stitched the inside of the hexagons to the backing fabric, with a running stitch that only went through the batting layer, not all the way to the front.
 The front remained non-magnificent. Some of those hexagons were severely distorted. (Like the one at the 7 and 8 o'clock positions.)
Next, I machine quilted the outer hexagons (with Invisifil thread). That flattened everything out, and it looked better, if you don't look too close. (The 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock hexagons are weird, too.)
 The back looked better quilted.
I am giving this technique a B-minus. I still think I blew it by using my machine instead of handstitching the backing ring of pieces to the front. That's what I will try whenever my next EPP piece comes along.

Have you tried any of these techniques? What EPP finishing methods work for you? Any machine methods you recommend?